Astros beat Nats, win seventh of last eight games

WASHINGTON (AP) -- What a long road trip for the Houston Astros. The first game lasted 13 innings, and the last one went 14.

At least they finished with a win, with an unexpected hero who had teammates cheering the television replay in the locker room. For the Washington Nationals, on the other hand, Sunday's loss meant they had to endure five extra innings of their lousy offense.

Eric Bruntlett, who started the day hitting .167, hit a three-run homer with two outs in the top of the 14th to give the Astros a 4-1 victory and a 7-4 record on their road trip.

"Things like that are so big," teammate Morgan Ensberg said. "It is something that is special. He will remember it for the rest of his life."

Bruntlett, who had entered the game in the 10th inning, fouled off three straight pitches before pulling Hector Carrasco's 3-2 slider over the left field fence and into the Nationals bullpen. It was his second homer of the year and his sixth, seventh and eighth RBI. It was just the seventh career homer for the seldom-used utility player.

"I just got mobbed when I got back to the dugout," Bruntlett said. "That was special. That was fun."

Russ Springer (3-3) pitched two innings for the victory, and Brad Lidge pitched the bottom of the 14th for his 23rd save. The Astros won three of four in the series and would probably have had a sweep if Willy Taveras hadn't misplayed a fly ball in Saturday's 4-2 loss.

Not bad for a team that started the season 2-21 on the road.

"It would have been pretty heartbreaking if we would have come off with a loss," said reliever Dan Wheeler, who pitched three scoreless innings. "This gives us all kinds of confidence. It is huge."

The Nationals have lost four of five and 13 of 18. They scored just nine runs in the four-game series, and three of those came on Taveras' miscue. They wasted another good starting performance by John Patterson because they failed again to advance runners and otherwise take advantage of their few scoring chances.

Washington remained tied with the Braves for first place in the NL East. The Nationals are searching for answers as they head into a three-game showdown for first place starting Tuesday in Atlanta.

"If we go into Atlanta and hit the way we're going, we don't have a chance," manager Frank Robinson said.

The Nationals are hitting .170 since the All-Star break.

Robinson was especially frustrated with players who were swinging for the fences when a fly ball or base hit would have better served the team -- especially in a ballpark where home runs are infrequent.

"Something is missing here with this ballclub," Robinson said. "Whatever it is, I've got to try to find out, figure it out. This is not the same ballclub that played most of the first half here. And I don't mean personnel-wise, I'm talking about the way we're going about our jobs and the results."

The Nationals not only lost but also had a scare. Jose Guillen was hit on the right wrist with an 0-1 pitch with one out in the ninth inning and was taken to a hospital for X-rays, but the results were negative. He is listed as day-to-day with a bruise.

"Let's keep our fingers crossed," Robinson said.

Adam Everett started the winning rally with a single to center off Carrasco (3-3). Everett advanced on a wild pitch before Jose Vizcaino walked. Brad Ausmus flied out to right before pinch-hitter -- and Saturday's starting pitcher -- Brandon Backe hit a long fly to right that advanced Everett to third, and Vizcaino stole second. Bruntlett then connected for his homer.

Most of the game was a brilliant pitchers' duel between Patterson and rookie Wandy Rodriguez. Patterson struck out a career-high 10, allowed six hits and walked none in eight innings, while Rodriguez allowed three hits, struck out four and walked one over a career-high seven-plus innings in his 11th career start. Patterson remains the master of the no-decision -- with just a 4-2 record over 18 starts despite a 2.58 ERA.

The Nationals scored in the fifth when Marlon Byrd doubled and scored on Gary Bennett's opposite-field single. The Astros tied it in the sixth when Lance Berkman doubled off the left field wall -- a ball that Byrd might have caught had he not misjudged the ball's slice -- and later scored on Mike Lamb's sacrifice fly.

Game notes
Robinson was running out of players when Guillen was hurt, so he used pitcher Ryan Drese as a pinch-runner. He then had to move players around and insert Vinny Castilla at third, even though Castilla wasn't supposed to return until Tuesday because of a sore
knee. ... Everett stole his career-high 14th base in the second inning. He had 13 last year.